They set out in December on what was to be an unforgettable journey. They attached sleeping bags to their backpacks and stuffed their bags with ramen noodles and beef jerky to keep them going.
It may have been dark and cold in much of the country, but in Florida it was still warm enough to be out in T-shirts.
The two young men planned to hike the Florida National Scenic Trail, which currently spans 1,000 miles from southern Florida to Pensacola Beach.
They would later call it the “adventure of a lifetime.” It was that and more, with surprise twists they will never forget and a rescue for which both are grateful.
Tom Rieker set out on the trail with his friend, Ryan Crowder. They trekked through grass and water, filming their adventures and the meals they made at night to share with followers on social media.
But the free-spirited adventure took a turn when the ankle-deep water got to be waist-deep. The water from last year’s hurricanes had left the area much wetter than the two had anticipated.
The pair decided to continue, but they weren’t alone. The waters were home to alligators and poisonous snakes such as water moccasins.
At this point, they were in trouble. As far out as they were in the wild, there was no phone service, and the duo had neglected to bring an essential for any trek: a map.
“The water weakened our feet so the skin cracked and peeled off at the heel,” Rieker wrote on Facebook. “My boots felt like lead weights full of mud, and the water weeds clutched at our ankles.”
He described it as the most physically challenging experience of his life. “Man, I tell you, that water was no joke,” he later said.
Anything could have happened, and luckily for them, what came next was just what they needed. Rieker’s phone got a signal, and he called 911.
Rieker and Crowder were rescued, much to the relief of their family and friends.
Crowder told Inside Edition that he could hear his mother jumping up and down and saying, “You’re alive! You’re alive!”
Rieker has since created videos of a different sort, interviewing experts about trail safety. He has said they will do a documentary about what they did wrong to help others avoid the same mistakes.
Lost in a wilderness of snakes and alligators.
It’s the stuff nightmares are made of, but thanks to the efforts of the rescue group, these men and their families are once again resting well.
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